The Ming dynasty 明 (1368-1644) was the first native dynasty that ruled over the whole of China after three hundred years of (partial) alien rule. It was founded by Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋 (Emperor Taizu of the Ming 明太祖, r. 1368-1398, reign motto Hongwu 洪武), a person of humble origin who founded his capital in Nanjing, Jiangsu, expelled the last Mongol troops from Chinese soil and pacified his competitors for power. Zhu Yuanzhang is known as a suspicious and brutal ruler (the "tyrant of Nanking") who abolished the cabinet and, as a thoroughly autocratic emperor, laid all administrative tasks into the hands of his trusted eunuchs. The latter, organised in the "brocade guards" (jinyiwei 錦衣衛), notoriously spied out civilian state officials. Eunuch factions and factions of officials (like the Donglin Party 東林黨) regularly fought internecine struggles at the Ming court.
Emperor Chengzu 明成祖 (r. 1402-1424, reign motto Yongle 永樂), shifted the capital to Beijing, and undertook several successful campaigns against the Mongols. It was also him who sponsored the large expedition voyages led by Admiral Zheng He 鄭和 that served to demonstrate the political and military power of the Ming empire in Southeast Asia and even at the shores of East Africa.
The initial thrust of the Ming empire lost its impetus in the mid-fifteenth century, when the Mongols regained their strength and pirates (called Wokou 倭寇) endangered the coastal cities of southeast China. The Western Territories (modern Xinjiang) remained independent under Uyghurian leaders. In the late sixteenth century the Japanese warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi invaded Korea and endangered the Ming dominance of the peninsula. At the same time the Jurchens were united under the khan Nurhaci (Chinese name Taizu of the Qing 清太祖, r. 1616-1626) who founded the Later Jin dynasty, the predecessor of the Qing 清 (1644-1911) that would eventually conquer the Ming empire.
Ming period culture is characterized by the fossilization of Neo-Confucianism and the rise of the popular romance.
In the late sixteenth century Jesuit missionaries like Matteo Ricci came to China and were welcomed at the court as experts in astronomy and mathematics, but had less missionary success than hoped.
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